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Berkshire Museum’s Plans to Auction Artworks Approved by Massachusetts Attorney General

The Berkshire Museum and the office of the Massachusetts attorney general have come to an agreement that will allow the institution to move forward with its controverisal plan to deacession dozens of artworks so that it may increase its endowment and pay for a renovation. The attorney general filed paperwork today asking the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to approve the deal. The Berkshire Museum has faced sharp criticism since its announcement last summer that it would auction off forty artworks from its collection—including paintings by Norman Rockwell that were donated to the museum by the artist—at Sotheby’s last November, before the sale was blocked by the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

While the attorney general’s office agreed to lift the typical restrictions that would apply to the sale of such artworks, it introduced a few stipulations, according to Artnews. Rockwell’s painting Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1950, a gift to the institution that had been estimated to go for $20 million to $30 million, will be purchased for an unnamed sum by an undisclosed US institution and kept on prominent display. The artist’s three sons had filed a suit against the museum, claiming the sale of the work would violate Rockwell’s requests as a donor. The filing also states that the Berkshire Museum will be allowed to raise up to $55 million by auctioning the artworks in three tranches. If the money is reached in the first tranche, the remaining works will not be sold. The museum will be allowed to use $50 million of its auction earnings without restrictions; $5 million will be put in a fund to help the collection and handle acquisitions.  

The museum intends to loan Shuffleton’s Barbershop to the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum for around two years, and then it will consider loans to other museums in Massachusetts.